Pilgrims in an unholy land

I think it’s finally time to tell you about my one and only trip to that rotten ivy patch on Chicago’s Northside, Wrigley Field.

In the eight years I attended games at the open-air Milwaukee County Stadium, I was never rained out of a game. I went to Wrigley on Sept. 26, 2003 with a group of kids from my college newspaper for a Friday afternoon game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs could come to within one game of winning the division for the first time in 14 years with a win.

The game was rained out.

We had just come from a visit to the Chicago Tribune, where in a news meeting, we learned of the death of George Plimpton. Actually, it was the first time I had heard of him. The news director, who spoke in a hilarious drone very much like Charles Grodin, just told us about a staff meeting he attended in Istanbul.

“George Plimpton died? Do you kids know who George Plimpton is? You should probably learn.”

He quickly became a hero of mine as I gobbled up all the stories I could find about his many adventures, including the April Fool’s story he wrote in Sports Illustrated about Sidd Finch, a yogic master rookie pitcher for the New York Mets who could supposedly throw a 168 mph fastball.

The sky was threatening rain while we walked past the huge covered wagon hawking T-shirts and the iconic red sign that I remembered from the theme song to “Perfect Strangers.” (0:42)

I had just started dating the Cubsfan, and she not only raved about how great things were in the “Friendly Confines,” she felt compelled to rip Miller Park at every available opportunity.

“It looks like a shopping mall,” she would say. “And all those ads — that’s not a ballpark.”

If you’re watching the game, do advertisements matter? Sponsorships plastered across the chest of soccer players in the EPL, Serie A or the Primera Liga don’t diminish their fan bases’ adoration. Putting a Spiderman promotion on an actual base might be taking it a bit far, but…

Wait, a second… Isn’t this place called Wrigley Field? Doesn’t that mean a commercial entity has been pimpin’ naming rights to your ballpark for like, 100 years before Miller Park? Go buy some chewing gum.

What is that you have over there? The Wrigley Bud House Wrigley Rooftop Seats? So you don’t have advertisements inside the actual park — for things like Time Warner High-Speed Internet, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and West Bend Mutual Insurance — but you instead you have a bunch of yahoos hanging off rooftops in corporate-sponsored cheering sections advertising shitty beer which doesn’t even add to your ticket sales or ad revenues? Where’s the grand tradition in that?

A serious problem I have with Cubs fans — and with The Cubsfan — is that they seem to feel something can only be good unless something else is bad. This usually presents itself as subdued xenophobia, as evidenced by their irrational and classist hatred of the Chicago White Sox, or racist depictions of my current favorite Cub.

Their stadium is plunked in the middle of a quaint little neighborhood where trees line the streets and 20-somethings get their start stumbling home from sportsbars to their walk-ups. Ours sits in a post-industrial wasteland of endless parking lots and abandoned warehouses on what was once a hellish swamp in a soggy river valley. Their stadium has an outfield view of the towering skyline of Nature’s Metropolis, ours has a view of a highway… and more parking lots. Again, we are clearly inferior — the bottom rung in the caste system of baseball.

During the four-hour rain delay, my group was able to explore all the nooks and crannies of the park — at least those under the covered grandstand. And it’s true: It is an epic place (this is where Babe Ruth called his shot, after all). I loved it. It was incredible. Everything from the MILF’s in red rain coats with Burberry-patterned umbrellas, to their daughters in blue t-shirts, to the bratwurst was off the charts.

But some people must have their fun at the expense of others, and therefore I will point out that Wrigley Field is a crumbling shitcan of a stadium where white people come to socialize, and where a miserable bunch of losers occasionally take the field. What’s that you say? Lovable Losers? This is America. Nobody loves a loser.

The game was finally called on account of rain.

“This would never happen in Milwaukee.”

The rain stopped, then started again shortly after we got outside. We started walking all the way back to Michigan Avenue (4.8 miles) in the pouring rain. Along the way, I reenacted the “Andy crawled through 500 yards of fowl-smelling shit” scene from Shawshank, as well as several Dave Matthews Band videos, because I am a douche bag.

We finally caught some cabs to get back to the Tribune Tower. I hopped in a car with a couple of soaking wet sports guys and Rocky the Herald Comics Raccoon and we got lost in Chicagoland, picked up some beer and finally found the Cubsfan’s parents house. They graciously took us out to dinner and let us crash there.

In the morning the sports guys took off for Champaign to cover the Wisconsin-Illinois game. The Cubsfan and I slept in and then watched the Cubs play a double-header against the Pirates. They won both games. The Brewers beat the Astros in Houston, which officially propelled the Cubs into the playoffs. The Cubsfan and her dad had tears in their eyes.

“You’re crying?” I said. “Wow, I didn’t even cry when the Packers won the Super Bowl, or the Badgers won the Rose Bowl. I suppose if the Brewers ever made the playoffs, I might cry.”

Then I thought better.

“Are you crying? There’s no crying! There’s no crying in baseball!”

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3 responses to “Pilgrims in an unholy land

  1. The Other JJ

    George Plimpton? Bronson Pinchot? Horry Kow!

    Asides from the nostalgia I felt in the lady and my trip there last year (after meeting the Brewers at the hotel bar! I shook Braun’s hand 6 weeks after he was called up! I told Geoff Jenkins he looked like Brett Favre – to his face!)…uh…where was I going with this? Oh, yeah. Wrigley’s a dump.

    All they serve is Bud and Old Style, a practice unacceptable south of Kenosha. It seems a little structurally unsound. Cubs fans are assholes. AND I had to pony up $125 for 2 standing-room seats. Much like Syracuse basketball, oversized sunglasses and the Cubs’ “next big thing”, Wrigley is ov-er-rat-ed.

    Not sure who’s brilliant idea it was to schedule 2 series in Chicago before May Day, but we got ’em.

    Just remember, “Gagne” means “he wins” in French. Oui, c’est vrai.

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